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Cocktails

There’s No Escaping the Popcorn Cocktail

October 14, 2022

Story: Bettina Makalintal

photo: Lizzie Munro

Cocktails

There’s No Escaping the Popcorn Cocktail

October 14, 2022

Story: Bettina Makalintal

photo: Lizzie Munro

Equal parts impractical and comical, the low-effort snack-as-garnish shows no signs of slowing.

Like the loaded Bloody Mary, the popcorn garnish feels calibrated to be seen; if a Martini appears sleek and unassuming, the popcorn-dressed drink arrives ready for an audience. In its most restrained form, a few kernels sit on a skewer or rest on an elegant layer of dark chocolate, to be eaten quickly lest they go soggy. But in its more showy versions, the popcorn-garnished cocktail appears like Santa at the start of his route: burdened with a cup of popcorn so large or so heaping that it looks comical next to the glass to which it’s affixed. 

Of course, to garnish a cocktail with an edible snack is no new thing. Beyond the classic olive and cocktail onion, a whole roster of modern cocktails are garnished with thoughtful edible accessories, from the housemade “Oreo” at Double Chicken Please to the togarashi crisp at Overstory. Within this trend, the popcorn garnish occupies a low-effort, high-absurdity niche. 

And it’s everywhere, often in drinks infused with popcorn flavor, but not always: in a baking cup paired with a popcorn flip; in a leaf-green cone attached to a popcorn sour; in a paper cone clipped to a Gin & Tonic. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the popcorn garnish can be as practically untenable as it is visually silly. In the caption for the aforementioned Gin & Tonic, the user notes, “Not everyday you get popcorn with your G&T. I mean it didn’t last long, the peg miraculously snapped and popcorn went everywhere but it was a thoughtful gesture.” In one especially extra iteration from Barcelona bartender Diego Baud, the popcorn cup is not attached to the corn-flavored drink, but served in a miniature metal bucket between it and a piece of charred corn on the cob, set atop a dehydrated corn husk, for corn four ways. 

@haswellgreensnyc The Silver Screen #popcorn #cocktails #timesquare #nyc #livemusic #bar #nightlifenyc ♬ Bartender (feat. Akon) - T-Pain

The theatrics of the popcorn garnish are undeniably part of the appeal. At Haswell Green’s, a cocktail bar in Manhattan’s Theater District, inspiration comes from the location. The Silver Screen is made with toffee popcorn–washed bourbon, a cherry cola reduction and bitters, and is finished with a red-and-white striped cup of popcorn that’s clothespinned onto the glass. It’s been on the menu since the bar opened in 2018—and it’ll likely never leave, says partner and beverage director Kevin Mulhern. “It’s a selling point,” he notes. “When people see that, they can associate going to the movies or the theater.” 

At Deadshot in Portland, Oregon, the Double Feature was developed by former bar manager Natasha Mesa as a nod to Don Lee’s Cinema Highball, made with popcorn-infused rum. It’s no longer on the menu, but regulars still call for it, notes owner Adam Robinson. It featured popcorn-infused Cocchi Americano, smoked cola syrup and a clothespinned cone of popcorn. Though that was foremost a functional choice, Robinson acknowledges that the accoutrement can be polarizing: Deadshot’s drink came around at the time that tiny clothespins were taking over the drinks world, holding everything from citrus peels to mini Polaroids

“As much as some people in the industry really don’t like them, guests love them,” says Robinson. “It was just a perfect way to clip on a functional garnish to pair with popcorn in the drink—why not have a little popcorn while you’re having a drink?”

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Bettina Makalintal is a food and culture writer. She is currently a senior reporter at Eater.